Friday, September 21, 2018

From Beyond the Veil

This post is heavy. It collides with the Kavanaugh hearings, the bravery of Christine Blasey Ford and some recent public struggles of my own. There is talk of rape, assault and religious neglect. It is thick with themes of Mormonism, and the generational abuse in that particular system as sustained by women. Though I post it willingly, I realize many readers might feel that it is a fairly raw account of my life. It's not for the faint of heart, except that I wrote it for the faint of heart--so they can grow stronger. Yoni blessings.



I don't know what it is about September exactly but I always seem to feel feverish. This is the second September in a row that I have had a public battle with a relatively powerful man and problematic behavior (I don't know what words to use anymore to describe such things, I am too overwhelmed). The most recent incident happened in July, and shortly afterward I sent written documentation to proper channels, and felt it was good enough. But it became clear to me that it wasn't actually good enough, and I decided to make it public last week--this time on Facebook. In response, the perpetrator laughed at me, then sent his supporters to mock me on my post, then issued a half-baked apology (clearly in attempt to save his job). Press were involved. Public comment was recorded. Emotions exploded. And then he was suspended for three months from his job, no pay, and required to go to training/coaching/therapy...whatever I don't even care, because it was never the goal. I am so grateful for the mountains of support I received both times this has happened to me. I am overwhelmed at my luck to feel embraced by friends and strangers all over the globe--some from surprising sources.

But Dear Goddess in Heaven, if by next September I do this again please take my soul. I don't think my family could take another one of these whirlwinds. I would happily avoid them, but if not for my concern that if I don't tell my story--or in other words-- send a signal, more women will get hurt. Not even five minutes went by after I posted before I started getting messages from women who had similar experiences with this man. You're so brave, they told me, I couldn't do it myself.

But I didn't feel brave, I cringed writing the post. I cried for days knowing I had to write it. I lined up all the support I could get just to write the first word. Christopher had to sit by my side until it was finished. And then I sat in a near-constant vibration of adrenaline, sweating buckets of pure cortisol for days after I posted. It didn't help that I was in Las Vegas--talking to press and doing live interviews--which isn't what you'd call an especially soothing locale. But we were able to stop by the desert on our way home to sit in the warm belly of the Goddess herself.

The weirdest thing about writing is that I am so conditioned to not believe women, that even I don't believe myself when I write my own stories. Last September I was utterly degraded and destroyed in a job I deeply loved after I raised concerns about sexual harassment and homophobic remarks happening to staffers. Even now as I am writing what happened my brain shouts OVER REACTION! OVER REACTION! OVER REACTION! Following advice from lawyers, I've been meticulous about collecting evidence--writing down records, taking screen shots of texts sent to me, organizing emails that are pertinent. All these things tell me that I am not over reacting, that I am telling the absolute truth, and yet...

Sometimes I drive around my city and think about all the women living in the homes and apartments and I think about the secrets they keep about men in their lives. About their dad who abused their mom emotionally--withholding money from her or manipulating her into their fantasies she wasn't nearly close to being comfortable with. About their uncles who sexually abused them but scared them into secrecy. About their families who hushed them when they came forward with allegations. About their bishops who ritually asked them sexually explicit questions behind closed doors. I think about the women who married so young they never even had a chance to know themselves. I wonder how many women know how many choices are robbed from them, and if they will ever find out. I wonder how many women in my community don't think they have the power of consent after they marry. I would bet you it is a lot.

I suppose that today is as good as any other to mention the multiple times I was raped. All by the same despicable boyfriend. The first time I had no idea what had happened after it happened. I was shocked and totally separated from my body. We were kissing and things were getting definitely passionate, but I didn't want to have sex. At all. And I was so uneducated on any of it, I didn't understand what was even going on. He didn't ask me if I wanted it. I was silent. I just sort of laid there in utter confusion. When I think about that day I see it all from third person, like my soul is against the ceiling, hovering over the bed looking down where my frozen body is, and I am crying.

The second time I was asleep and sodomized. I woke up and screamed and protested. He became incredibly angry at me. And my conditioning told me immediately to not make him any more angry. Don't make waves, don't tell anyone, just go along with it.

You see, like many women, I have tried standing up to abuse, and contrary to whatever the masses think you "should have done" the truth is: there is no way to win. You could fight back and die. You could bring up repulsive behavior and lose your job. You could resist and end up socially scarred. You can do nothing and live broken for years and years. Having left a toxic marriage, I can spot an abusive husband from housetops away, and yet I still freeze in the face of mistreatment. Despite it's overwhelming pervasiveness (you would almost consider it "normal" if you didn't know better) sexism continues to shock me at times--particularly when I expect better. How about that?

The only thing women can do is this: resist the absolute systemic power of men (also known as patriarchy) in their respective communities. And my Mormon Mothers, they will not do that. THEY WILL NOT.

There is only one way to dismantle this power, and that is to rob what fuels it; the secrets we keep for men. From the blatant to the subtle  Sadly, I've found that in "outing" men in our religion I've incurred the wrath of defiant Mormon Mothers. They don't like women who upset their perceived right to a pedestal--and they can only be there as long as the men who built the pedestal stay safe. They called me evil and vile, and they like to use the phrase "little girl" as in, "sad little girl", "selfish little girl". They tried to gaslight me. They called me an narcissist. They showed up for the man, even after he admitted that my account of his mistreatment was accurate. They religion-shamed me, "if you would trust in the Lord these things wouldn't happen to you." They judged me for the way I didn't stand up for myself,  "you make me ashamed to be a woman" they say to you. "Why didn't you put up a fight?"

Yeah? Why didn't YOU put up a fight?

Do you want to know what it's like to have to publicly call out men who are decades older than me? Oh lord, it's awful. These men have lived lives knowing they can say or do anything without protest. They think women who protest are jokes; the Mormon Mother thinks they are sinners. Remember after the election of 2016 women took to the streets in the biggest protest in history, and men laughed at us and Mormon Mothers turned to social media to pass pious judgement? One female church leader used her pulpit to disparage the very women who were protesting FOR HER. Anytime you try to stand up to the white male supremacy, there's an army of stay-sweet, age-advancing women ready to obliterate you with their shame. And a lot of them have shared Facebook accounts with their husbands. I am just saying.

If you're so enlightened, why didn't you take these guys down before they got to me? I want to ask them. One time while working as a youth leader in my ward, a man in my bishopric repeatedly told me about his sexual fantasies, and used explicit terms to talk about the young women's bodies. One time, during a youth activity he came way too close in my personal space, "I am into girl-on-girl" he whispered in my ear, and then winked. When I took all this to my bishop I had to explain to him what "girl-on-girl" was because he didn't know. Then he said, can you just forgive? So I took it to a councilor in my Stake Presidency where again, I had to explain what "girl-on-girl" was because apparently this church is full of infant children void of sexuality. He called me back and said, Christopher as my witness, "I am too embarrassed to take this to the President, so I am hoping that you will forgive and we can move on." When I refused again, the bishop showed up at my house with a guitar and sang Love One Another. I was irate. But when I took it to my Mormon Mothers they shrugged, "Looks like you should just forgive," they said. Ho hum.

And I don't ever consider myself a "victim"....whatever that weaponized term means. I have no problem taking responsibility for my own actions and that is why I am a writer--I write my wrongs. My vulnerability is my sacrifice, it is my apology, and no one gets to tell me if it is sufficient. My heart can do that alone.

My ancestry is littered with women who were manipulated, cheated on, assaulted and raped. There are family secrets so deep and so sharp they've actually cut relationships. We don't like to talk about those things. Nobody does--even though every single family has them. I absolutely do not blame the women of my blood for their trauma, but I do bitterly denounce them for letting white male supremacy pass on--like a genetic trait, blue eyes or impossible hair--to their children, as if it was their destiny. Religiously manipulative, non-consensual polygamy is ripe in the history (and present) of my family (and church), and yet, here we are.

Here we are--with an American president who oozes repulsiveness and drips with absolute stupidity. And what do our Mormon mothers do? They support him. They voted for him. They will vote for him again. They do not care about the people of color who will be harmed, or the threats to basic women's health. They will cheer only when their husband's wallets get thicker and their influence grown.  Because, tenuous and indirect as it is, it's as close as they'll ever get to power.

And I am angry. That doesn't mean I live out my days as a contemptuous crab. I have a lovely life. I laugh heartily and easily. My kids seem to think I am a fun mom, though sometimes arduous about things I care about (academics, passions, CONSENT). My husband and I have a malleable marriage where we trust each other enough to change as needed by the soul. We also have a non-negotiable date night weekly we absolutely live for. I enjoy the company and insight  of the best of friends, who I esteem as sisters. I say all this because I am incredibly tired of all the stupid ways women get policed for having any emotion other than "pleased." You can be angry and have a lovely life. Anger is just ignored instincts getting louder. I am learning to listen to perhaps the wisest voice at my disposal--my own anger. And as I do, I feel profoundly more peaceful (which is just another way of saying confident).

And yet, when I go for early morning walks around my neighborhood where I was raised and live now, I see those Mormon Mothers who shamed me or my friends as youth in their pastoral care, who stood by their sons as they destroyed the confidence of the girls who loved them, who continue to have abject and utter putrid obsessions with men in religious power--to the point that they would gladly hand over their fourteen year old daughters or granddaughters to become secret wives to "prophets" if it were asked of them today like it was asked of mothers in the past, who celebrate when their female posterity naively go to the temple and are made to ritualistically bow their heads and promise to listen and obey their husbands, I walk the other way. I do. They disgust me. And I am not so zen that I trust myself in their presence. See also: why I won't go to church.

You come to expect men to be villains, but you cannot fathom the betrayal of your communal mothers. The pain is searing, but it takes awhile to recognize. Every time a Mormon woman says to me, I've never experienced any sort of sexism in the church, it translates into my head to, I experience deep religious manipulation to the point where I do not even understand the very heart that beats in my chest.

And who calls these women out if not for their daughters? I can forgive the past, I know they did their best in the political and religious environment they were in. But even now, when their daughters start to rise up, the Mormon Mother comes to crush them, get them back in line, shut them up. I need them to know that I see what they're doing, I am not immune to the blatant inequality they sustain. And I am willing to help in the healing, but I will not stand for the continued battering of their own spirited daughters.

I didn't even know I had experienced rape until a friend told me about hers which happened before she was Mormon. Her story was mine almost word-for-word. When it happened to her she went to the police and the man was held accountable--charged under the law. When it happened to me I went to my bishop, confessed to sexual sin, received punishment (some of which was publicly humiliating) lived in shame, soaked in a ripe anger I didn't even understand.

And I think a lot about that bishop I confessed to, he didn't know I was actually raped, because I didn't either. I don't even think he would've believed me if I had known at time. But in his strict admonishment to me, he was eager to mention that oral sex was definitively evil and satanic, and he had the backing of an official declaration stating it was against church law. He said this to me with more enthusiasm I had seen from him in all the years I had known him. There are two things about this: 1.) this scared me for decades, even into my thirties until I went to a couples retreat and I learned from my friends there that most of them could only achieve sexual climax orally--which is the case for 80% of women. So I began to think about all those women, married to devout Mormon men, who likely died without ever knowing sexual pleasure (because masturbation is also not an option--if only because they didn't know it was), and how horrifically misogynistic, narcissistic and perverted those men in power had to be to not care--AT ALL--about women. And 2.) later in life I could easily see that this man was very obviously deep, deep closeted gay and the relief of not having to pleasure his wife in this way was probably why he taught it to me--and others--as if it were the most important of all Mormon doctrine. But even still, he didn't care if I was or wasn't in the 80%, his eagerness to teach me sexist policy bulldozed my own fragile sexuality at that point.

Would it have killed someone to treat young girls decently? As human beings?

The third time was an attempted rape. I screamed and fought and yelled until he became so angry that he punched the walls and tried to smash my bedroom window. After he left, I spent many nights petrified that he would return, kick down my apartment door, or break a window to get in. I told myself that I would be protected by my father's "priesthood power" which I don't really know how to explain the workings of, but it was the only way I could sleep.

I think about devout Mormon women dying. And I do wonder if any of them die peacefully (confident).

I think about Mormon women refusing to read the words of Mormon women unless it comes blessed and edited by The Church. Because women's voices---you can't really trust them, right? ("Is this  woman's biography anti-Mormon?" What serious reader asks such questions?)

I think about how they excommunicated women for wanting to tell the truth about women's history, or because she desires to talk about a mother goddess, or because she desired female ordination.

I think about how we veil Mormon women just before we close their caskets. We kiss them and then veil them and send them to wait for their husbands to call their patriarchal name, unveil them, pull their bodies from the grave, and be resurrected. And many will find that in their sleep their husband accumulated more wives. The marriage they died for has changed, without their consent, but with the blessings of God.

I think about unmarried Mormon women waiting for their Mormon husbands.

Just go live, I want to say. GO LIVE. YOU ARE FREE.

My therapist once told me I could write down things like this and just never push PUBLISH. She said writing your truth doesn't require an audience. I disagree. If I don't (we don't) publish things like this then how am I better than the Mormon Mothers who came before me, who buried their bridled indignation in subtly-compacted lines in secret journals? And what kind of writer would I be if I was willing to write my heart, but lacked the vulnerability to share it? The thought of that seems selfish as much as useless. I believe stories are the only way to heal, and secrets are the only way to destroy, and I will not be a co-conspirator.

I do NOT mock Mormon Mothers and yet, they confuse my intelligence, curiosity and concern as taunts. No matter how I curate my tone for their sake, they will always say I am a bully, I am an enemy, I am a threat. I wish they knew this was all for them.

No matter my personal belief and faith, I will always be Mormon. Joseph Smith said that those who leave the church cannot leave it alone. And he was right. But what he perhaps didn't conceive was that down the line, generations after generations, this church would become a cultural heritage. And one cannot excommunicate themselves from their own history, their own language. It would be like removing the very brain in my head, wiping it clean like white board, and inserting it back into my skull. Even still, how can I leave alone an institution that contains the hearts of so many people I love?

If there is an ounce of mysticism inside me it is that I often hear the voices of the women of my family, long gone, asking for the chance at restitution through their daughters who can speak. If I have a gift to write it's because they made it so. I have always loved the last chapter in Joanna Brooks' book Book of Mormon Girl where she describes all the Mormon women sitting together at a table. Academics, polygamists, feminists, moderates, trans women, women of color, women of all sizes, lesbians, poets, everyone. Her vision, she stunningly writes, has made me weep many times in my hopelessness. But in my own version we aren't sitting at a table. We are standing on a hillside in breastplates and helmets, sharp swords at our waists. In this vision, we fight side-by-side, young and old, against the enemy that binds us together in pain and anger--the secrets of men, carried by mothers for generations, too scared to tell.

Those sharp swords are our voices.